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Democrat wants to address more complex, less partisan, problems in Pierre

Democratic candidate for governor, Jamie Smith, speaks at a Black Hills Forum and Press Club event.
Slater Dixon
Democratic candidate for governor, Jamie Smith, speaks at a Black Hills Forum and Press Club event.

The Democratic candidate for South Dakota governor says the state needs to tackle complex issues, not partisan issues.

Jamie Smith told an audience in Rapid City, he’s running a what-you-see-is-what-you-get style campaign.

Smith, who's 51, is a realtor from Sioux Falls. The former high school teacher was first elected to the statehouse in 2016.

Smith said he supports access to abortion with limitations. He also favors legalizing recreational marijuana. State voters have signaled support for both in the last two decades.

Speaking after a Black Hills Forum and Press club event in Rapid City, Smith said he would govern without a partisan agenda.

“Our job as leaders is to forget about the party part of it, sit down and try to hammer our real solutions to tough problems,” Smith said. “So often, what we see is importation of problems—especially by partisan interests. And they solve those and say, ‘Hey, look what we did.’”

Smith was talking about the recent push by Gov. Kristi Noem to ban transgender girl athletes from playing girls sports. He says the South Dakota High School Activities Association does a great job of regulating sports.

South Dakotans have not elected a Democrat as governor since Dick Kniep in 1970.

Gene Lebrun served as Speaker of the House during that time and was the last Democrat to hold the position. He says South Dakotans are ready for a change.

“I think Kristi Noem has polarized South Dakota more since she’s been governor, than she did before,” Lebrun said. “I think that there’s a lot of Republicans that will vote for Jamie Smith, because Kristi Noem is just too far out for them. Same with Independents, I think they will vote for Jamie. So, I think Jamie has a real strong shot at it.”

According to a South Dakota State University poll in May, Noem has a less than a 50 percent favorability rating among all South Dakota registered voters. Candidate Smith needs votes from independents and Republicans to win.

Noem remains deeply popular among South Dakota Republicans, who make up the lion’s share of registered voters in the state.

Smith and Noem will debate once in late September.

Black Hills Forum and Press Club organizers say Noem is invited to speak at their October event.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.